About Migraine Headaches

  • Migraine is the third most prevalent illness in the world. Nearly one billion people suffer from them. While they most often strike adults, migraine is very common in children. 
  • Migraine has been diagnosed in children as young as 18 months old.
  • Nearly 10% of school-age kids suffer from migraines, and about 28% of 15-19-year-olds are affected. Fifty percent of migraine sufferers have their first attack before they turn 12.
  • Interestingly, before puberty, boys are afflicted more often than girls. But as adolescence draws near, the incidence increases more quickly in girls than boys. By the time they turn 17, 23% of girls have experienced a migraine versus 8% of boys.

What’s the difference between a migraine and a headache?

The pain of migraine is usually more severe than that of a regular headache. Migraine typically includes throbbing on one side of the head that frequently gets worse with activity. Unlike a headache, other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, vision difficulties (seeing flashing lights, for example), light or sound sensitivity, and tingling often accompany a migraine.

At what age can children get migraines?

Any child can get a migraine. About 10% of children ages 5-15 and up to 28% of teens get them. Half of the people who get migraines have their first attack before the age of 12. Migraines have even been reported in children as young as 18 months.

What are common migraine triggers?

Several things can cause migraines, so you and your child need to keep a diary like this to track of potential causes. Triggers can include:

  • Poor hydration. Most children need eight glasses (8 ounces each) of healthy fluids daily. These healthy fluids include water, juice, Gatorade or Powerade. Drinking caffeinated or sugary beverages is NOT healthy and may make it difficult to control your child’s headaches.
  • Lack of sleep or poor sleep habits. A regular sleep routine is important to establish and allow for 8-10 hours of sleep per night. This may vary some due to age. If your child snores or is excessively restless during sleep, you should let your neurologist know.
  • Food triggers. Common food triggers include caffeine, chocolate, nuts, aged cheeses, nitrates in processed meats like hot dogs and bacon, monosodium glutamate (MSG is a common flavor enhancer found in many vending machine snacks, ramen noodle flavor packets, and soy sauce), excess salt and artificial sweeteners. Migraines can be triggered when eating large servings of these foods on an empty stomach.
  • Skipping meals, especially breakfast. Regular meals are very important. Avoid skipping meals and eat a healthy snack between mealtimes when needed. 
  • Stress. Avoid over-crowding your child’s schedule. Address signs of distress right away. 

What can you do to help prevent migraines?

While migraine generally can’t be predicted, here are a few steps you can take to help prevent your child from having one:

  • Make sure your child gets regular exercise.
  • Your child should take all medications as prescribed by their provider.
  • Avoid the overuse of over-the-counter pain medications such as Tylenol, Motrin, Excedrin, Ibuprofen, etc. Limit the use of these medications to no more than three doses per week to reduce the risk of rebound headaches.
  • Keep a diary of your child’s headaches to review at each doctor’s visit, which may help identify contributing factors. 



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